Tribal expulsion back on track for 300 Nooksacks

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDAugust 20, 2013 

Just when it looked as though a move to expel 306 people from the Nooksack Indian Tribe might be delayed, the tribal appeals court has cleared the way for tribal officials to resume the expulsion process on all but six of the affected members.

On Aug. 14, the Nooksack Tribal Court of Appeals issued a ruling that appeared to postpone the expulsion process, formally known as disenrollment, while the higher court pondered the appeal filed by Seattle attorney Gabriel Galanda on behalf of six tribal members. Galanda filed the appeal after Nooksack Tribal Chief Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis rejected Galanda's request for a court order blocking the disenrollment.

The disenrollment process set up by Chairman Bob Kelly and his supporters on the tribal council allotted each of the affected tribal members a 10-minute phone session with council members to plead their case, and those phone sessions had been scheduled to start on Friday, Aug. 16.

On Monday Aug. 19, attorneys representing the tribe asked the Tribal Court of Appeals to clarify the Aug. 14 ruling. Tribal attorneys argued that the court had no authority to stop the disenrollment proceedings against all 306 Nooksacks, since only six were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

On Tuesday, the three-judge panel agreed.

"This court agrees ... that there is no legal basis for this court to prevent the Tribe from proceeding with disenrollment proceedings in regards to any Tribal member who is not a plaintiff in this suit," the latest ruling says.

That would appear to clear the way for disenrollment proceedings against 300 of the 2,000 members of the tribe.

Besides the loss of tribal identity, the challenged Nooksacks also face loss of valuable tribal benefits that include medical and housing assistance and a share in tribal fishing rights.

Some of those benefits have been taken away even before the disenrollment process is complete. The tribal communications website says children in the families facing disenrollment are not eligible for a $275 per-child stipend that the tribe is providing to help families cover back-to-school expenses. Those who survive the disenrollment process and remain in the tribe will be able to collect the money later, the tribal announcement says.

All of the people facing loss of membership are descended from Annie George, whose name does not appear on a key tribal census document. Her descendants say that was a mistake that should not be used to strip them of their tribal identity and the valuable housing, medical and fishing rights benefits that go with it. They say they have probate records and anthropologists' opinions to support their ancestor's Nooksack identity.

Kelly's supporters describe the 306 as members of a Canadian tribe who were wrongfully enrolled as Nooksacks in the mid-1980s. They argue the expulsion simply corrects that mistake.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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